October 31, 2010

Halloween and the Lemuralia

I'm reprising a post from last Halloween about the Italian tradition of baking ossa dei morti and considering whether or not to actually make them this year. Think I can give them out to the few trick-or-treaters that come to my house?

31 October 2009

In completely separate research streams this week on Roman funeral customs and Halloween, I came across an Italian All Soul's Day tradition rooted in the Roman Lemuralia, or the festival honoring the dead. During the latter, the paterfamilias would fill his mouth with black fava beans, which he would take out one by one and throw over his shoulder as he walked through the house. The lemuri, or souls of the deceased, would stoop to pick them up (as fava beans contained the souls of the dead) and leave the house. When Christianity took hold, traditions such as this were frowned upon. The practice of purifying the house of souls with fava was transformed into ossa dei morti, cookies (sometimes called fave dolci) made with almond paste, that are shaped to look like finger bones (or, in some traditions, tibiae). If only I had stayed in Italy another month in 2007, I might have found out about this tradition earlier (and gotten some awesome recipes from my friends' mothers and grandmothers).

UPDATE - 31 October 2010

Since the recipe was so easy, I decided to make some ossa dei morti this afternoon. I added a tad bit of marsala since the dough seemed dry, formed the dough into vague finger shapes, and baked. It was really, really hard to get the cookies off the trays. There's no butter in the dough, so the cookies don't just slide off the pan. Perhaps if I had used parchment paper or something else, they would have come off more easily. Here's a picture of the ossa dei morti I made:

I plated them on a platter with actual finger bones on it (specifically, a ring of 5th metacarpals) for comparison... and because I wanted an excuse to use my new, awesome Halloween plate.

The cookies aren't very good, though. I thought they would be kind of like biscotti. But they're a bit chewy. I used almonds rather than a mixture of almonds and hazelnuts, so they taste mostly like marzipan. I'll try them dipped in coffee tomorrow morning, but they need something else - maybe a chocolate coating? Ah well, at least my house will be purified of dead spirits - important for someone with dozens of books about dead spirits in her house.

October 29, 2010

The Average World Citizen

I don't know any Dutch, so I'll have to rely on Google translate here, but a group of researchers(?) created the "average world citizen" by taking measurements from a variety of populations and weighting them based on population size, it seems. The facial reconstruction is interesting, although a bit dubious because I'd think that the epicanthic fold would figure in. And I question the point of collapsing all human variation (which exists for a reason) into an average. What annoys me most, though, is the headline (and someone can correct my translation if it's wrong) about the "average citizen" - who is, of course, male:

Or have I again spent too much time reading the Sociological Images posts about male as the default sex?

October 28, 2010

History Pin

This is quite possibly the coolest use of the web I've seen in a while. History Pin is an interactive, collaborative website that allows you to "pin" old photos onto modern Google maps. With enough pictures and contributions, you can virtually "excavate" the built landscape of the world and the people who pass through it on a daily basis. For example, here is a photograph of the integration of the Carolina Theatre on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill in 1963, superimposed on a street view of Franklin today:

The Carolina moved from this location around the corner to Columbia, but closed in 2005. I think much of the theatre is the brand-new Walgreens near the corner of Franklin and Columbia.

In my archaeology lectures, I often tell the students that one way to learn about the past, particularly about past landscapes, is to ask a long-time resident. I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, I tell them, in a little neighborhood called Woodbrook. When we moved there in 1981, the expansive lot across Route 29 from us was a horse farm. In my teens, a property developer turned it into a huge shopping development with Kroger as the anchor grocery store. I worked at this Kroger and, while out on a walk one day on my lunch break, came across a display of some of the artifacts that were found when the shopping center went in. Most were Civil War era, as it was the location of the Battle of Rio Hill. But there was undoubtedly Native American occupation in the area, as the neighborhood next to mine, Carrsbrook, was the site of the famous burial mound that Thomas Jefferson excavated and detailed in his Notes on the State of Virginia. From the original Native American inhabitants to the colonial presence to the Civil War to the internet (my old neighborhood has a blog!), there is a wealth of information to be learned about a landscape just by asking people what they remember.

I'm incredibly pleased to have found History Pin and am currently pondering how to incorporate it into my lectures and/or assignments for next semester. Maybe some extra credit? Or a recitation section activity? Pin a childhood picture to Google maps and write a brief story about it, perhaps?

October 27, 2010

BYU's Halloween Delivery

I came across a link to this story about a mysterious package containing two skulls that showed up at BYU's history department. I totally buy that someone thought possessing the skulls was a bad idea; even legally obtained skulls (such as those from medical supply companies) tend to have a sordid history of body part trading from another area of the word (e.g., India, China) and thus cross over into ethically grey territory. But the person who sent these skulls (a child and an adult) marked the return address as: Jim Crow, Route 3-126, Augusta, Montana. The police's current theory is that they're Native American skulls; if they were from Augusta, that seems to be originally Blackfoot territory. And the skulls might therefore be able to be repatriated under NAGPRA as the Blackfoot Nation is nationally-recognized. The super weird part of the puzzle, though, is the name Jim Crow. Is there a possibility that these are the skulls of an African-American adult and child? I watched the video half a dozen times, but the cop doesn't hold the adult skull still enough for me to estimate sex, much less attempt to suss out any possible ancestry traits. The skulls, according to the news report, are being sent to the state archaeologist's office, and I know they have bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists in Utah, so I hope more information comes out.

I have to wonder, though, as I'm not as versed as I should be in my knowledge of human remains possession, what does one do if one finds a skull or other human body parts? It wasn't unusual in the past for medical doctors to have their own study skulls, which may have ended up in the attic for their unsuspecting heirs to find long after their death. Are there laws that protect people who turn in human remains? Is an investigation immediately launched? What if those human remains turn out to be Native American or African-American rather than medical specimens procured from India or China?

UPDATE - 10/28/10: That was quick. The state archaeologist has already said that the skulls were most likely Native American, but that seems to be all he could tell upon immediate examination. (Interestingly, the news report doesn't state the sex of the adult or the age of the child, which are arguably easier to determine than ancestry.)

UPDATE - 11/5/10: The skulls are indeed Native American according to the state archaeologist. They'll be turned over to a Utah tribe.

October 26, 2010

Taxonomy Tuesday

I recently came across the Archaeobotanical Database at the University of Tuebingen. The geographical scope of the freely-accessible database reaches from the eastern Mediterranean to the Near East, and the temporal context covers the Chalcolithic to the Medieval periods. After you register, you get a choice among four options: a list of the over 250 archaeological sites with botanical information, a list of all the taxa included in the database, a search function (with criteria including side, region, time period, taxon, genus, and family), and a distribution map (with criteria including period, taxon, genus, and family).

My own research into the ancient Roman diet has shown that immigrants to Rome were more likely to have consumed plants with a C4 photosynthetic pathway than were locals, perhaps because they came to Rome from geographical areas where these plants were more plentiful. The most common C4 plant in the ancient Mediterranean was (common or broomcorn) millet, whose genus is Panicum. I did a quick search in the database and generated a distribution map of all the sites that had reported Panicum in archaeological context:

Surprisingly, it looks like quite a lot of millet has been found in eastern Greece and unsurprisingly that little millet has been found elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Millet was not a highly prized grain for human consumption and is less likely to be found in a household context than wheat, for example. Clicking on each of the 17 sites leads you to a bibliography for the archaeobotanical remains found at the site. When I do a detailed search on Panicum in Greece, however, the results show that only a trace amount of millet was found in every site except Iron Age Kastanas (Macedonia), which had a huge proportion of millet in various phases. (It is also the only site in Greece that has evidence of Setaria, the genus for foxtail millet, and the second most common millet in the Mediterranean.)

It seems that in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, millet was not eaten as a primary grain anywhere except perhaps Kastanas. Of course, that site could represent a livestock foddering area, as cows and goats could be fed millet while humans consumed wheat and barley. Or perhaps people were actually eating a significant amount of millet. If I were to read some of the linked bibliography on the site, I might learn whether or not there are human remains from the site and if their skeletal tissue has been tested using carbon isotope analysis.

I wish a database like this existed for the entire Mediterranean. It would be really helpful to amalgamate the archaeobotanical data for the Imperial period in order to look at the ancient Roman economy and diet. And of course it could help me narrow down the geographical locales from which some of my C4-eating, anomalous-Sr/O immigrants came.

October 25, 2010

They Might Be Paleontologists

The best children's CDs I've found recently are Here Come the ABCs and Here Comes Science by one of my all-time favorite groups, They Might Be Giants. Chickpea loves the accompanying DVDs, which have clever and interesting music videos. I found myself singing "I am a paleontologist" in the shower this morning, so I thought I'd share. Catchy tunes!

They Might Be Giants - I Am a Paleontologist w/Danny Weinkauf from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

October 22, 2010

CSI: Cortland, NY

My esteemed colleague at SUNY Cortland, Jodi Blumenfeld, posted a story that ran in yesterday's Cortland Standard about her Forensic Anthropology class. They did an outdoor mock crime scene along the lines of the one I did when I taught the same class at Cortland in 2008. The scanned article that I got from her is below, followed by a transcript. I should also mention that one of my former students, Heather Beardsley, is now Jodi's TA and just barely missed being in the newspaper photo below. Way to go, both of you, for bringing some visibility to anthropology at Cortland!

CSI: Cortland State
SUNY students probe mock crime scene for class

By Anthony Borrelli
Staff Reporter

CORTLAND - Most of a human skeleton and other evidence at a possible crime scene lay strewn Wednesday on the grass outside Moffett Center on the SUNY Cortland campus.

But the remains were not real, only part of an introductory forensic anthropology course's lab exercise.

How those bones got there and whether a crime was committed were among the questions the college students had to answer.

"I want them to come up with some kind of scenario about what they think happened," said the course instructor, Jodi Blumenfeld. "Anything that may be related to the crime scene, you want to map out and make a record of."

Students divided themselves to cover five blocked-off sections at the mock crime scene, each containing different pieces of the remains and various other evidence planted to help them deduce how the fatality occurred.

One section contained a skull and a crowbar, while another had a pair of jeans with a leg bone sticking out and some beer bottles strewn about and two personal identification cards. Other remains included an arm and a leg with a boot attached to the foot.

Holding an outdoor lab featuring the study of skeletal remains in a mock crime scene, close to Halloween, was not a coincidence.

"It's a timely lab with the time of the year," Blumenfeld said.

Forensic anthropologists are not usually the first to encounter remains, but are able to identify the person's sex, age and other characteristics by analyzing the bones, Blumenfeld said.

"You work with what you've got," she said. "A lot of times, when they're found outside, you don't recover all of the skeletal elements."

The students had to act professionally and take care not to disturb the remains.

Analyzing the bones can indicate how the person died and whether there was foul play, Blumenfeld said.

As he finished mapping out a section of the scene containing a skull and crowbar, college senior Ishmael Sprowal said the exercise is an interesting way of bringing reality to the kind of forensic science shown in TV shows.

Piecing the evidence together is harder than it looks, Sprowal, a sociology major, added.

"You have to actually be meticulous with the information you take," he said.

Junior anthropology major Brittany Gambini and other classmates said they thought they were getting an accurate picture of how the crime may have played out, as they finished mapping out a section containing a leg bone inside the pair of jeans.

The students said they enjoyed the chance for hands-on study.

"It's cool to be able to apply it rather than just by sitting in the classroom," Gambini said.

Blumenfeld said the outdoor mock crime scene exercise is one of several labs students in the course perform each semester.

October 14, 2010

Bones - Season 6, Episode 4 (Review)

The Body and the Bounty

Episode Summary

A couple of adorable freegans are out on their first dinner date. While rummaging in a Dumpster, they find a decomposing head. Brennan and team are called to the scene, where they also find the victim's hands. Booth and Brennan continue an earlier conversation about committing the perfect crime, to the confusion of Saroyan. The victim's teeth were shattered, Brennan suggests in order to hinder identification. Additionally, the victim's hands were sawed off: striations (evidence of sharp trauma probably from a serrated knife) are evident on the distal ulna. Saroyan notes something unusual about the phalanges. Brennan corrects her and notes that there is a flattened exostosis on the (right) first metacarpal and proximal phalanx. Booth chimes in and suggests that the anatomical change resulted from the victim's holding a gun often. At the lab, Saroyan introduces Professor Jude the Science Dude, who conveniently is offered an intern position for the case in order to convince Brennan to come on his children's science TV show. Jude looks at the sloughed off hair under a microscope and determines that its deltoid appearance suggests it was beard hair rather than head hair. Angela reconstructs the face and beard, and Booth seems to quickly find out who the missing person is: a bounty hunter, Wolf, thus explaining the gun-related hand exostosis. Meanwhile, Jude and Hodgins analyze particulates from Wolf's beard and find a combination of pine needles, a rare bug, and a special kind of barbecue sauce. All of these items add up to a half-mile stretch off of 250 in Virginia. Booth goes out with a cadaver dog, and they find the rest of Wolf near the cabin that Braverman, the fleeing suspect, had rented or owned. Back at the lab, Jude determines cause of death: a bowing-inward fracture of the left fourth rib indicates high-velocity (projectile) trauma, likely a gunshot wound. Brennan, however, notices that the two sides of the fractured rib don't match up - the gap is from a small sliver of rib that was actually forced out of place and into the heart. The question remains, though, what kind of tool could do this? Brennan and Booth head over to find Braverman's wife; they also find Braverman, who escapes as they tussle with a female bounty hunter, Janet. Hodgins and Jude set to work figuring out the speed, force, and velocity of the object that killed Wolf, and begin by throwing a baseball and a golf ball. Angela attempts to convince Brennan to go on Jude's TV show by claiming she will name a daughter after her. During this, Brennan has an epiphany and shows Jude that the rib was healing when Wolf died, so that injury was not the proximal cause of death. At the FBI, Janet the bounty hunter has given them a tape showing that Gering, the bounty boss, struck Wolf in the rib with a pool cue during a heated argument. The team brainstorms, and Sweets thinks Braverman and his wife are headed west, and Brennan thinks they will stop at a hospital because Braverman likely dislocated his hip when he jumped out of the window to evade capture and landed flat-footed. Hodgins and Jude conclude that the object that caused Wolf's rib fragment to dislodge and kill him was a blunt, malleable projectile moving at a relative low speed. When Booth and Brennan get to the hospital in search of Braverman, they find Janet - who happens to be carrying a bean bag gun. Booth arrests her for Wolf's murder. Brennan goes on the science show dressed in a skeleton onesie, comically-oversized hands, a bright red tutu, and pigtails.

Forensic Comments
  • The writers this week deserve credit for fitting in sharp, blunt, and projectile trauma to the case, without making them feel forced or confusing.
  • The director deserves credit for ensuring the proper pronunciation of difficult-to-say words, like acetabulum, and words that have confusing singular and plural forms, like phalanx.
  • In my quick-and-dirty research, I couldn't find anything on finger exostoses that would indicate heavy gun use. I've never used a gun, so I would have thought any exostosis that formed would be on the trigger finger (the second metacarpal/phalanx). But perhaps if it's a heavy gun, the thumb is used to steady the weapon?
  • I also had never heard about the "deltoid" appearance of hair before. Hair follicles are generally round or oval, which result in straight or wavy hair, respectively. Deltoid means it's triangular - are the facial hair follicles triangular?
  • When Hodgins and Jude analyze the beard contents, how do they know that all of that material came from the victim and not from the Dumpster full of food? (I guess because they all indicated he had previously been elsewhere.)
  • I was going to be picky about "cause of death" - since the cause of death is really that the victim's heart stopped and he stopped breathing. But a quick flip through Byers' Intro to Forensic Anthropology resulted in calling myself on being overly pedantic.
  • Why didn't Brennan notice the healing rib earlier? Seems like it would be pretty standard to assess the edges of the break for healing.
  • My biggest problem with this episode is in the Hodgins-and-Jude re-enactment in an attempt to figure out the weapon that caused the rib fracture. Jude had already concluded that it was high-velocity trauma with a narrow impact - so why in the world did they start throwing a baseball and a golf ball at the fake ribs? Neither of those has a narrow enough impact point to cause the rib fracture. Before the cut-away, Hodgins was going to throw a hammer of some sort - really? That injury was caused by something long, narrow, and cylindrical - but with less force than a bullet. The pool cue fits fine, but the writers were clearly just giving Hodgins and Jude more to do in this episode, as both of them are smart enough not to start with a baseball.
  • Today's nitpicky detail: in the Angela-Brennan scene in the lab, the left radius and ulna are switched. Anatomical position requires the hands to be palm-up, which puts the radius lateral and the ulna medial, rather than what they had on the lab table. I am probably the only one who noticed, but seriously, can't they just pay one person each week to get it right and lay out the skeleton properly?
  • "The Bone Lady" moniker has already been taken, Dr. Brennan.
  • If Brennan was so concerned with teaching children empiricism, etc., why did she agree to infantilize herself on Jude's show? He was wearing a lab coat, while she had pigtails and donned skeleton pajamas, enormous gloves, and a red tutu. There is no way an anthropologist so concerned with questions of performance of gender and age roles would do that.
  • That said, I desperately want to buy Brennan's skeleton jammies. :)


This episode's dialogue wasn't too bad. The Brennan-Booth conversation about the perfect murder was a time-waster. Also, if a forensic anthropologist could commit the perfect murder, Zack wouldn't be behind bars. I did not buy that Angela would name a kid after Brennan. That's just a weird piece of (I hope) throw-away dialogue.


Forensic Mystery - B. The double injury was pretty interesting, even if Brennan should have noticed the healing earlier. And I honestly thought at the beginning that the bounty boss would turn out to be the killer. But again, no real mystery about the ID of the victim.

Forensic Solution - B-. The solution was reasonable except for the Hodgins and Jude re-enactment issues.

Drama - B+. A few characters were squeezed in with nothing to do (Angela and Sweets). The drama that unfolded basically all related to the forensic mystery, and having Booth stalk the bounty hunter (and try to get to the hunted first) was pretty good.

* Bones is on hiatus for the end of baseball season (ooh, maybe the baseball in the re-enactment was a reference?), but regularly-scheduled reviewing should be back in November along with the show! *

Cancer in Antiquity

After slogging through a bunch of articles like this one based on a research study that claims there was no cancer in antiquity, I discovered that the New Scientist did some digging and found people to point out the major problems with the study and the researchers' conclusions. Journalism win!

UPDATE - 11/22/10: One of my colleagues, Paula Veiga, points out the shortcomings of the Nature article in an essay in ArchNews.

Ancient Road Trip!

There has been a lot of press coverage lately of a 3,500-year-old skeleton buried near Stonehenge with a bunch of amber beads. The latest in the coverage is from National Geographic, which headlines, "Bejeweled Stonehenge Boy Came from the Mediterranean?" First, I should say that I am excited about what this skeleton can tell us about physical mobility in prehistoric Europe. But, without a proper scientific report, it is very difficult to evaluate the researchers' conclusions.

This skeleton was first uncovered in 2005, and excavators immediately deemed it important because of the cache of nearly 100 amber beads. It can take a while to find funding, take samples, and run isotope analyses, but the results of Sr/O analysis of the skeleton's teeth were just announced at the end of September (at the British Geological Society symposium, which is why there is no scientific information out yet). Jane Evans identified the skeleton as nonlocal from the O isotope signature, which indicates the person grew up in a warmer climate than is found in England. This warmer climate may very well have been the circum-Mediterranean. (I assume that the Sr in this case reflects a seawater signature of around .7092, which could put the individual anywhere along a sea coast, but of course the numbers weren't reported in the popular press.)

Interestingly, in a comment on the above-linked NatGeo article, someone suggested that Mike Parker Pearson has shown that the Stonehenge individual could have been local - so it will be quite interesting to see how this plays out as a research article. Sr/O are by no means perfect assessors of homeland - and a slightly "warmer" O than the climate would have predicted can actually be obtained from an anomalous diet. I would like to see some dietary information from this individual (they assuredly have at least the C, since it's often run along with O) to see if it too is anomalous. So while the NatGeo article highlights the anomalous nature of the burial and the individual, there may well be (I will say there is almost definitely) disagreement about the interpretation of the Sr/O(/C) data. And this is the problem/fun of isotope analysis: we have machines that measure very precisely the isotope composition of bone and teeth - but we often have no idea how to interpret those data because people are far more complex than geology.

My other complaint about the article (or symposium presentation) is the characterization of this individual as a "boy." This person, according to the osteologists, was around 14 to 15 years old at death. It's a bit young for sex assessment, but I'll buy that they felt a certain amount of robusticity suggested male. The article suggests, "Because he was so young, archaeologists suspect the boy traveled with an extended family group, perhaps doing the equivalent of a 'grand tour.'" This individual was not too young to be out on his own, or rather, to be a person (an adult) in his own right. He may well have traveled with a family group, and there may well be evidence of that archaeologically - but I wonder whether the "he was too young" was a quote from the presentation or editorializing by the NatGeo author. (One of the points I make in my dissertation is that, in the Roman Empire, we don't know why young people were coming to Rome - of course, in that context, kids could have come as slaves. This is a different context, but a teenage male 3,500 years ago was likely not "too young" for much.)

I look forward to seeing this in print - and to seeing if the isotope interpretation changes to be more conservative in its estimation of the "bejeweled boy's" homeland.

October 13, 2010

Who needs O when there's PP?

Many researchers have used oxygen isotope analysis to look at changes in palaeoclimate, and the element is also useful for reconstructing past migration. A group of researchers at the University of Leicester is instead using hyrax urine. The hyrax looks like a big guinea pig (and is apparently related to the elephant). Hyraxes also pee in the same area for thousands of years; the urine crystallizes and can be examined for information on the environment and food of hundreds of generations of hyraxes (shouldn't it be hyraces?). According to the brief news item, researchers can get resolution as close as a few decades from the stratification of the urine. The hyraxes roam all around Africa, so this method is potentially useful for understanding the last 30,000 years or so of climate history in the area. Very cool!

(Also cool: the researchers are Drs. Carr, Chase, and Boom, which is, without a doubt, the most awesome byline I have ever seen in academia. And it reminds me of the (Washington Post) Style Invitational's annual contest to name a new bill.)

October 9, 2010

Neandertals on the Runway

I just came across a link via John Hawks's weblog: a challenge to design apparel for "Wilma," a female Neandertal who was on the cover of National Geographic two years ago. Four previous Project Runway designers contributed sketches of clothing for Wilma, and two NG staffers did as well. (This is the original link; the sketches are also reproduced below.)

Here are the PR designs:

And here are the NG designs:

Notice a difference? The NG staffers sketched Wilma as she was - a heavily-muscled, 5-foot-tall hominid. The PR designers sketched waifish models in fancy fur-trimmed clothes, with a lot of Native American influence (except the sketch that inexplicably includes jodhpurs). I don't expect the PR designers to comb through anthropology articles about the materials that Neandertals might have made clothes and accessories out of, but I would at least expect them to draw an actual Neandertal wearing them. (Bonus points go to the second NG design, which shows Wilma engaged in an everyday activity rather than posing all coquettish-woman-contrapposto.)

Of course, if this kind of challenge ever showed up on Project Runway, I'd be beside myself with dorky anthropological excitement.

October 8, 2010

All Creative Work is Derivative

An interesting response to the current debate about copyright issues, in animated form:

The title of the video is "All Creative Work is Derivative." I like the video a lot, but it bugs me a bit that the sculpture is devoid of context. Sculptures of people are, on the whole, going to look like sculptures of people. Some sculpting techniques may be similar, but without especially the temporal context, we don't actually know for sure that the creative work is derivative.

To borrow terms from physical anthropology, there is a difference between homology and analogy, and two forms of art, or two methods of making art, could have evolved independently... a lesson I learned the hard way in my very first anthropology course, Prehistoric Art. For my term paper, I attempted a direct comparison - that is, evolution - of Cycladic figurines from the Venus of Willendorf. They may be female figurines carved out of stone, but their similarities in physical appearance belie differences in time, geography, culture, and (probably) intent.

There are more videos and extra information at questioncopyright.org.

October 7, 2010

Bones - Season 6, Episode 3 (Review)

The Maggots in the Meathead

Episode Summary

A body is found on the beach by a metal detectorist who locates a distinctive heavy gold chain with giant gold cross. Brennan and Booth are called to the scene, where Saroyan and Brennan note the advanced state of decomposition - and the victim's wallet with ID. Back at the lab, Hodgins comments on the "cheese skippers," the larvae of scavenging fly. Initially, Saroyan thinks that the advanced decomposition could be related to the victim's lack of body fat or his ingesting a lot of stimulants. To start the forensic analysis, intern Fisher (who has returned after a psychiatric issue) notes veneers on the central and lateral incisors and, more importantly, a depression fracture at the cranial vertex with no sign of bony remodelling to indicate the victim was still alive after the impact occurred. Fisher plans to model the microfractures in the skull. A bit later, Fisher reports damage to the first and second cervical vertebrae, more specifically fractures to the transverse and spinous processes. Brennan confirms this and further explains that the processes were likely broken off through contact with the edge of the foramen magnum. Basically, the cervical spine of the neck was forced into the victim's skull, and the vertebrae penetrated his brain, killing him instantly. Fisher finds a fragment of concrete embedded in the depression fracture, leading him and Brennan to think that this might have been a case of blunt trauma (such as a fall from a height onto a concrete surface). When Brennan and Booth arrive at the shore house, they note people tossing one another off of porches into a swimming pool, which Brennan notes could have caused the blunt injuries in the victim. After a rather entertaining interlude at a bar where Brennan waxes anthropological about the "guidos," particularly their displays of masculinity, we return to the lab. Fisher notes a perimortem bruise near the depression fracture, and Saroyan confirms that the subscalpular hemorrhaging (a phrase I've never come across before) indicates the victim was likely struck twice in the head, meaning it was blunt force trauma. The lab staff further determines that the weapon had a curved edge and was likely cylindrical. Bone fragments from the top of the skull show additional evidence of a foreign substance - this time a yellow plastic. Sweets combs through text-speak between the victim and a woman (4Q!), and in questioning she points Booth to the bouncer at the club. Brennan and Booth show up at the club and assume that the murder weapon was a pole for the ropes that restrict entry, as the poles are set into yellow plastic buckets with concrete in them. The bouncer has an alibi, though, and Brennan brainstorms a reason that there were two days in which the victim was unaccounted for: he was frozen. Freezing a dead body would also explain the speeded-up decomposition. She directs Fisher to check for evidence of microfractures in the Haversian system of the victim's bones, and he confirms that the microfractures exist in the femur. Booth and Brennan confront the ice delivery man, who previously got into a fight with the victim's friend at the bar, and he confesses to killing the victim, without knowing that it was the victim's friend who was always stealing the ice.

Other than the completely egregious sex scene at the beginning, this episode was actually fairly good. It wasn't heavy on the drama, there were only hints at the will-they-won't-they relationship, the anthropological interest in the victim was not unwarranted, everyone was given something to do that was entirely reasonable and within the purview of their job descriptions, and the writers/directors more or less accurately handled a simple blunt force trauma case.

Blunt trauma is probably the injury to the skeleton that is most well-known and well-understood by forensic anthropologists. Blunt trauma is, simply, when force is directed at a bone over a relatively wide area (as opposed to the narrow focus of a sharp or projectile trauma); blunt force trauma refers to a blunt trauma that was inflicted by someone else (a blow to the head, for example, as opposed to a head hitting a windshield in a car accident or the ground in a fall). In a case of blunt trauma, the forensic anthropologist would first describe the wound(s); then attempt to figure out the size and shape of the object or instrument used and the speed with which it was wielded; finally, a forensic anthropologist would figure out how many blows there were and which blow came first. Brennan and team perform nearly all of these steps and use old-fashioned osteological knowledge and microscopes to do it. Overall, then, the forensics in this episode were very true to real life, meaning my forensic comments are mostly nit-picky.

Forensic Comments
  • The geography of the episode confused me from the outset. Where was the victim found? On the bank of the Chesapeake Bay? Where did Booth and Brennan go to check out the house? The Jersey shore is over 3.5 hours from D.C., yet they keep popping in at the house, the bar, etc. And did the body float from the Atlantic Ocean into the Bay? Did the ice truck driver drop it off? I can't remember if that was covered.
  • I was initially disappointed that the victim had ID on him because the more interesting forensic techniques are brought out when the person is unknown (as in last week's victim, who was IDed in part through Sr/O isotope analysis). But this let the writers focus on getting the blunt force trauma details nearly spot-on.
  • Good ol' reliable Wikipedia tells me that cheese skipper larvae don't usually show up for months, and I don't think the advanced decomp would matter in this case. Still, it is fun for the audience to see leaping maggots (which actually do leap - see this 5-second video).
  • Fisher states that he is going to model the microfractures of the skull, but I think he meant to say the radiating fractures that spider out of the depression fracture. Analysis of the fracture pattern can give you more information on the size and shape of the blunt object that caused the damage and the direction from which the force was applied.
  • I was surprised that no one mentioned a ring fracture of the skull. This type of fracture is common in blunt trauma that involves a fall from a height. Ring fractures of the cranial base can be beveled internally or externally, which can indicate if the victim fell (compressive force) or if the victim's head was being yanked off (tension force). If Brennan suspected the victim fell from a height, she might have looked for evidence of a ring fracture. Of course, it wasn't a fall, so it is less likely a ring fracture would be seen.
  • I've blogged about this before, but in a show called Bones, every skeleton should be laid out correctly. In today's episode, the left and right clavicles were switched whenever they cut to the victim's defleshed skeleton on the lab table. Of course, I am probably the only person who noticed.

This week's dialogue was snappy and not too heavy-handed (with the exception of the ice truck killer, who complained that "They all look the same to me."). Hannah calls Brennan out on being "quite literal." I actually liked Brennan's anthropological take on the "guido" culture. I've never watched Jersey Shore myself, but I once gave a class an assignment to watch a reality TV show (way back near the beginning of the genre) and critique it anthropologically... possibly just so I didn't feel guilty watching High School Reunion for a season. I even liked it when Brennan "goes native" and says in the lab, "This is so random, yo."


Forensic Mystery - B (the mystery was only about how the victim was killed and not who the victim was, so I had to deduct a letter grade there)

Forensic Solution - A- (a couple missteps with the clavicles and the microfractures didn't really detract from a solid resolution to the cause of death)

Drama - C (Angela felt squeezed into this episode, as did the explanations of Fisher's mental issues, and Sweets and Hodgins really had nothing to do or say)


For more information on all things forensic, see Byers' Forensic Anthropology and Mann's Forensic Detective.

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